A common refrain from the left is that the US should mimic Europe and its “socialist” systems. Often they’re referring to the Scandinavian countries, which aren’t socialist states but rather free-market economies with large welfare programs, rather than the true socialism as existed in Britain until Margaret Thatcher and remains in countries like France and Italy. But, let’s disregard that distinction for a moment and assume, for simplicity’s sake, that “European socialism” is both what exists in Scandinavia and the other socialist-leaning states on the continent. Are they right that the US should and could have such a system? No. The US is subsidizing European socialism. It’s not a sustainable system.
How is the US subsidizing European socialism? By paying for their defense. Here’s the list of how much each of the top 10 NATO countries spends on defense (from here):
- United States ($6.85 Tn)
- United Kingdom ($655.27 Bn)
- Germany ($491.32 Bn)
- France ($477.05 Bn)
- Italy ($232.81 Bn)
- Canada ($212.77 Bn)
- Turkey ($180.00 Bn)
- Spain ($123.36 Bn)
- Poland ($113.76 Bn)
- Netherlands ($113.60 Bn)
Notice anything there? Perhaps that the US spending more than 10x the next closest country and far, far more than all the others? Yes, I know our economy is far larger than the economy of every European country. But, still, our outsized level of spending is not commiserate with the economic differences between the two areas. Whereas they spend ~2% of GDP on defense, if not less, the US spends closer to about 3.4% of its GDP on defense. Our defense dollars are what keep those countries safe. The US is subsidizing European socialism.
That’s not to say that we should spend less on defense. The 3.4% number is incredibly low for America and is nowhere near enough to fund the military we need to deter China, let alone Russia and China while also dealing with the various barbarians we’re fighting around the world. But it does mean that Europe isn’t paying its fair share with the end result being that they are able to pay for their social welfare programs while we are left shouldering the burden of defending NATO. While we buy the fighters and bombers needed to deter Russia, Britain throws money down the NHS drain and France splurges on its subsidized infrastructure.
They would not be able to afford those systems were we to push them into paying for their own defense. Were our tanks to leave Germany, our fighters to move from Britain to somewhere more useful, such as Japan, Guam, or Korea, the EU would be forced to deal with paying for its own defense. The Germans would need to rebuild their military, Britannia might once more rule the waves, and the French Army would grow from a tired and overstretched expeditionary force to a real military reminiscent of France’s better days.
A brief glimpse at European history is all that is necessary to see that this is the case. Before WWI, Great Britain was able to afford a massive navy and reasonably large and active army despite having relatively low taxes as is described in The Last Lion. Similarly, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy all maintained massive standing armies. How did they afford to do so? By spending on national defense rather than welfare programs. Even Germany, which had something of a welfare system thanks to Bismarck, spent far less on welfare then than it does now.
Then, after WWI, those nations grew their welfare states and cut their militaries, splurging on handouts and retirement programs rather than preparing to defend themselves from foreign aggression. The result was WWII and all the attendant suffering, suffering that could have been averted had Europe focused on defense rather than welfare programs and socialism.
That trend, other than a few bumps in Britain with Churchill and Thatcher, has largely continued. Western Europe has cut its armed forces far below the minimum necessary to defend against foreign aggression and has felt safe doing so because the US stands ready to fight against the Russians or any other aggressors. The US is subsidizing European socialism; thanks to us, they’re able to fund ridiculously large welfare states and more or less ignore national defense.
We need to take a step back and prod the Europeans into recover their martial spirit. That’s not because we should emulate their socialist states and cut our military. We shouldn’t; socialism is evil in any form and must be avoided at all costs. Rather, we need to get the Europeans ot pay for their own defense because we need to refocus on the Pacific. Let Germany, Poland, and France produce the tanks and planes to defend the continent from Russian T-14s. We’ll focus on keeping the Red Chinese in check.
Plus, by forcing Europe to turn away from socialism and toward military matters, we might revive its productivity and economic growth. During the Victorian and pre-WWI era, a time when Europe was arming itself to the teeth, innovation happened at a breakneck pace. The Bessemer Process for making cheap steel, for example, came out of the need to make steel naval cannons. If Europe re-arms, perhaps its economy will transition away from a slothful one reminiscent of the stagnant Soviet Union to a vibrant one reminiscent of Europe during its Golden Age.
America is not the world’s policeman or bodyguard. The US is subsidizing European socialism right now but must stop doing so as soon as is possible. The Europeans can defend themselves; doing so would be good for them and let us focus on the Chinese threat.